Professor: Bipartisanship instrumental in achieving environmental, climate change victories

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Frederic Rich, author of “Getting to Green,” signs a book for electrical engineering sophomore Julia Conger at Goldsmith Hall on Thursday.
Photo Credit: Mike McGraw | Daily Texan Staff

The wide divide between U.S. political parties reached a tipping point for environmentalists in 2010, when then-Majority Leader Harry Reid announced the Senate would not take up a Cap and Trade bill — which would have regulated carbon emissions — despite sweeping Democratic majorities in Congress, an author and environmentalist said Thursday.

Frederic Rich, who spoke at the School of Architecture, said Reid chose not to bring the progressive piece of legislation to a vote because the majority leader knew there weren’t enough votes to form a solid majority. This led some environmentalists to begin coming up with ways to reform their movement in a politically divided era.

“The stars had finally aligned, everything had come together, everyone expected we would finally take action on climate,” Rich said. “If we can’t address climate change under these circumstances, what makes us think we will ever be able to act?”

Rich cited the events that unfolded in 2010 as an example of how far both parties have come since the late 20th century, when the parties had less of an ideological divide between them and the two could pass historic bills targeting carbon emissions, such as the Clean Air Act of 1990.

“It’s been 25 years ... since Congress has managed to pass a single major piece of environmental legislation,” Rich said. “What happened? Well, we know that the answer is politics.”

Discussing his book “Getting to Green,” Rich said the path to reforming the environmental movement includes bringing some conservative Republicans back into the fold by reminding them of their conservationist roots.

Rich, who said his book is not blaming anyone for the past, said the more extreme liberal voices in the Democratic Party are equally to blame for their reactions to issues like fracking, where some advocate for banning the controversial energy extraction process entirely, instead of focusing on incremental regulations.

These incremental regulations could help bring more moderate Republicans and conservatives into the environmentalist movement, especially if they are packaged as morally necessary, Rich said.

“Part of our responsibility as humans is to make sure that what we make is not going to destroy the planet,” mechanical engineering freshman Mohammad Siddiqui said. 

On Nov. 8, voters will head to their nearest polling sites to choose the next president and representatives in state legislatures, as well as both houses of Congress, including a third of the Senate. While the 2016 election results will have some impact on environmental legislation in the short term, voters themselves across all demographics must make sustainability and environmental causes top concerns if they wish for long-term changes, Rich said.

“This is a movement that has very broad support, but it’s shallow, people don’t care enough,” Rich said. “Until people care and prioritize these issues, we won’t see any political action.”

Electrical engineering sophomore Julia Conger said although presidential elections do have an impact on the direction of legislation, midterm elections — held every two years that feature only congressional elections between presidential years  — are arguably more important to environmental causes.

“Congress makes a lot of this legislation, so if people don’t vote then on it, it’s such a problem,” Conger said. “Executives and the president can make some decisions through executive actions, but the laws are where it’s going to be improved.”